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  • Meredith Shaw

The power of mentoring

Fortunately for young girls in the Tri-Towns of Topsfield, Boxford and Middleton, Girls 4 Girls (G4G), is a mentoring program that pairs Masconomet girls in grades 10, 11 and 12 with a mentee in 5th and 6th grade from three elementary schools.

No matter what your age, everyone needs a person who will listen without judgement, offer advice without being a know-it-all, and simply have your back. We all need a mentor; that individual who sees the best in us, and will guide/steer and inspire. And think back to the early years of being a 5th- or 6th-grader, when things start to get complicated, and you likely needed someone to talk to other than your parent or caregiver.

Let’s face it, most of us found those formative years, and middle school, not the best of times. At an open house at Masconomet last fall, one of the guidance staff asked the parents in the packed auditorium to raise their hand if they would want to go back to being a middle-school student. Not a hand was raised; It’s an awkward time of leaving childhood and trying to figure out one’s individuality. And in case you haven’t noticed, the pressures of being cool and popular are all the more complicated by the constant barrage of seeking digital likes and seeing all the beautiful people at fun places you are not. It’s a twisted reality, and it adds yet more stress on being an adolescent.

So now that we’ve established most adults would not want to return to the middle-school years, how does one not just survive, but learn to enjoy it? By having a mentor to look up to, and having that person who is unconditionally supportive. For fans of the TV Show, “Grey’s Anatomy,” in the early days, Christina and Meredith coined the phrase, “You are my person.” That person to whom you are not related, or in a romantic relationship with, but simply is your rock and your mentor.

Girls For Girls Mentoring Program

Fortunately for young girls in the Tri-Towns of Topsfield, Boxford and Middleton, Girls 4 Girls (G4G), is a mentoring program that pairs Masconomet girls in grades 10, 11 and 12 with a mentee in 5th and 6th grade from three elementary schools. Now in its third year, the program started in just Topsfield with the Proctor School and has now expanded to Howe-Manning in Middleton and Spofford School in Boxford. Close to 85 young women are now paired in the G4G Program, a testament to the popularity and need for mentoring.

Under the guidance of Tri-Town Council Youth Program Coordinator Meredith Shaw, the program is flourishing, and continues to expand. Masconomet sophomores, juniors and seniors apply for the program and are carefully matched with a mentee in 5th or 6th grade, generally in their hometown. The mentors attend several training sessions focusing on leadership, empathetic listening, and skills to be a good mentor. In the early fall, at all three elementary schools, the pairs of girls meet and develop lasting connections. The meetings are planned by the older girls, the mentors, and involve crafts, scavenger hunts, cooking, and other activities designed for interaction. Over the academic year, the groups meet just about every two weeks, for a total of 11 sessions.

There are teacher coordinators at all three elementary schools to assist with the facilitation, but the the Masco students are primarily running the meetings. This is a philosophy that Youth Program Coordinator Meredith Shaw feels strongly about, allowing the youth to be the leaders and decision-makers and to grow as mentors. The mother of two, she has a huge fan base in the mentors and mentees because of that approach, allowing them to learn and lead.

Last week was the final celebration of the academic year for the G4G Program, a party for the participants to meet from all three towns, held at the Emerson Center in Topsfield. Put 80 young girls together, add ice cream, games and new friendships, and it was a recipe for sheer joy. Both #mentors and #mentees shared their connections and plans for the summer to keep in touch.

In a follow-up survey, every respondent gave the G4G enthusiastic thumbs up, commenting, “I had so much fun at every meeting...I looked forward to seeing my mentor and now my friend.” Others spoke of how the program has alleviated their fears about attending #Masco. “I know my mentor is there and will look out for me and help me if I get lost or can’t open my locker,” said one young girl from Middleton. “I loved G4G and I wouldn’t change a thing. Maybe keep meeting over the summer,” added another respondent. A mentor who has participated for three years and is now about to graduate had this to add, “I think every pair of mentors gained confidence and leadership while leading and planning a meeting. [This program] has made me want to continue to be a mentor in college and to find someone who will be my mentor.”

At the close of the party, there were lots of hugs, special friendship handshakes, and promises to stay in touch throughout the summer. One fifth-grader from Boxford said she was sad that her mentor was graduating from high school, but knew she would stay in touch. “We text every day...I tell her everything that’s going on and [my worries] and she always makes me feel better,” she said.

For more information on participating in the #G4GProgram and the #BoysMentoringProgram, contact Meredith Shaw at 978-887-6512 or visit the #TriTownCouncil website,

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